The first thing that leaps to mind when you think about visiting India is seeing the Taj Mahal. We have certainly taken our sweet time, but we are finally here and it has more than lived up to expectations. Every year more than twice the number of residents in Agra move through its gates to catch a glimpse of poetry in stone. Most of the tourists appeared to be Indian, a bit of a surprise.
The story behind the Taj is a testimony to love and romance. It was built by Shah Jahan (grandson of Akbar who built the Red Fort) as a memorial for his third and most favorite wife Mumtaz who died giving birth to their 14th child. Even though it was arranged for him to marry her cousin, one look at her face and he was smitten. He was away in battle and rushed home when he heard she was ailing and was at her side when she died. It is said he was so upset his hair turned gray overnight and he lost all interest in governing. He had promised her a beautiful marble building, but had never gotten around to having it made, so he decided to make one as her mausoleum. Construction began the following year and the whole complex was not finished until 22 years later. Not long after it was finished, Shah Jahan was overthrown and imprisoned by his son and spent his final days in the Red Fort gazing at his creation through the window. His original intention was to build himself a twin Taj out of black marble on the other side of the river, but he was buried with his beloved Mumtaz in the white Taj instead. In total 20,000 people from India and Asia worked on the building. Specialists from Europe produced the exquisite marble screens and inlay made with semi precious stone.
We saw the Taj from across the river last night and on site this morning. Although it is a sunny day the air pollution is more than evident in our photos. Until a brisk wind or rain storm drives the particles from fires and vehicle exhaust from the sky, it will remain somewhat shrouded. We were supposed to see the Taj from the Red Fort yesterday just as Shan Jahan did, but we looked out at a grayish sky. Although it can be annoying to have crowds of people in your photographs, they need to be there to give an impression of how huge this building really is. The marble used in construction is so hard that it has endured much better than the other buildings we have seen here. It’s as if it is meant to be immortal.
Symmetry is the name of the game. A mosque was built on one side of the Taj; an identical building was built on the other side for the sake of balance even though it has no other purpose. The Koranic verses that go around the main entrances look as it the letters are the same size, but they have been skillfully skewed to give that impression even at the top which is furthest away from the viewer.
We stopped at a shop that is till inlaying semiprecious stones in the same white marble used to build the Taj. After a lesson about the process we were hooked. A small table top/trivet will be winging its way to our home some day soon. It will evoke the feelings of awe and wonder we felt today when we finally got to see the Taj.